Pakistan holds three suspected of plotting to kill diplomat

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Three men suspected of plotting an attack on American diplomats appeared in court Monday, as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca met with Pakistani officials to discuss the global war on terror.

The men made their initial court appearance and were ordered held in custody as authorities investigated the owner of a warehouse where police found ammonium nitrate allegedly being stored for an attack against two U.S. diplomats, said Karachi Police Superintendent Farooq Awan.

"We want to know whether he was involved or whether this was just a business deal," Awan said.

In southern Karachi, a chaotic and often violent city of 14 million people, police on Sunday said they found the ammonium nitrate in a vehicle and captured the three men -- one of whom said he was to ram an explosive-laden car into the diplomats' car.

The disclosure was accompanied by further admissions that led police to the warehouse packed with 250 sacks of the ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer used to make explosives.

Militants have targeted foreigners in Pakistan since the country gave its support to the U.S.-led coalition's war on terror. Until the Sept. 11 attacks, Pakistan had been a staunch supporter of the Taliban but reversed course after Afghanistan's rulers refused to surrender Osama bin Laden and his operatives. The policy change enraged Muslim militants.

Foreigners have been targeted in attacks this year that have left several people dead and prompted Western embassies to evacuate staff and their families.

U.S. intelligence believes senior al-Qaida operatives may be hiding in Pakistan -- either in the remote tribal regions or in the congested cities, possibly southern Karachi.

The Pakistan government says it is doing all it can to keep them out but that Pakistan's border with Afghanistan is difficult to seal.

"I can assure you that Pakistan will not be allowed to be used as a base for any operation against any civilized country of the world," Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat told reporters Monday.

"But the fact remains that we have a very long border with Afghanistan. It is a very porous border. It's virtually impossible to plug," he said.

Rocca's visit to Pakistan is the first since October elections gave a boost to militant religious parties. They now control two key provinces that border Afghanistan where U.S. intelligence believes fugitive Taliban and al Qaida are hiding.

Since coming to power they have released dozens of Islamic militants.

A key militant, Azhar Mahmood, head of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammed, was freed over the weekend after being under house arrest for nearly a year. Another key militant, Azim Tariq of the outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, was elected to the national Parliament.

These developments are likely to be high on Rocca's agenda, as well as a promise by the religious parties to deny permission for U.S. forces to conduct operations on their territory.

Rocca met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri and is to meet with President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday. She leaves Pakistan on Wednesday for Nepal and India.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan said that the talks between Rocca and Kasuri had been fruitful.

"The whole range of bilateral relations and the regional situation were discussed," he said, adding that Rocca "underlined the U.S. commitment to remain engaged in bringing about a Pakistan-India dialogue."

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